So to the verses at hand. We must first distinguish between v31 - 33 and 34-38 They are two separate conversations. The first is intimate, the second very much less so. The first is with the disciples, the second is with the crowd.
Our first question then is which group are you in? Are you in a close intimate relationship with Jesus or are you a hanger on? Does that sound harsh? Maybe it does but as I said earlier context is important.
The crowd are not really followers, but fans. I imagine they liked what Jesus had just said and done. They liked what He had done for them. They liked that He fed them. How many had actually been fed may not have been known to them, but did they even care? They were fed. And secondly they would have probably cheered Him on as He berated and criticized the authorities. It’s a bit like a crowd at a football match. We can often be accused of “only singing if we are winning” when it gets difficult though, it’s amazing how such a large crowd can disappear leaving absolutely no trace that they were even there in the first place.
Fans can fall away easily when it gets hard. Their faith is not built on who Jesus actually is, but who they think He is. They are encouraged by what they have been given by Him, or excited by when He says things they agree with, that fit their preconceptions. However the complete trust and faith in Him, is just not there. So the second conversation, well let’s read it again... Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
That is difficult to hear. Take everything you hold dear and forget it. Deny yourself. Give up who you think you are. You know this thing you call life, well it is no life at all. The life you wish for, don’t bother, it’s not what’s important, because if you hold on to it and believe that this is all there is then it will be a waste.
Now I don’t know about you but that has never ever been taught to me as a way to share the Gospel. Anyone else? Thought not. So what is that, exactly? I think it is the Gospel.
It is counter cultural. It goes against everything society tells us is vital, important and against everything the world says will bring meaning to our lives. It is about loss, denial, humility and a hope in something more than what’s around us. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? The fan won’t respond well to these words but a follower will.
Many years ago I had a difficult situation happen in the church where I was a member. I was naive and a fairly new, excited, christian. Now let’s make this absolutely clear I was in the wrong. The problem was that others decided that the best course of action was not to speak directly to me but to start the church grapevine up and mumble and grumble.
The inevitable happened and I found out. I felt awful. Not just because I now knew I had done something wrong but that people, despite all the nice words and encouragement, had been gossiping about me behind my back. Instead of taking me to one side and talking kindly but firmly about what was going on and restoring me to a better place had in fact decided to defame and stick the knife in.
Not a nice story but it does happen and there was a point at which I was asked the question “Are you going to leave” Now I took this as a question about my faith not my attendance at this church… whichever it was my reply was this “I have nowhere else to go” I believe that at that point the Holy Spirit made me a follower not a fan. He revealed to me that there was nothing and no one else that was worth giving my life to. No one else worth following.
The Holy Spirit must have been guiding my thoughts and moulding something in me because I think I was identifying with someone in the first part of our verses. Peter answered a direct question from Jesus “what about you, do you want to leave?” and Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
The preceding verses to Jesus speaking to the crowd was a conversation and revelation to the disciples and particularly to Peter. Earlier Jesus says “Who do you say I am?”. “The messiah” comes the reply. That in itself is an astounding admission. And I imagine Peter was well chuffed as my Mum would say. But we know that it didn’t take long for Peter to come down with an almighty bump.
Now “Get behind me Satan” is not the greatest motivational phrase I have ever heard but for Peter WOW. I cannot believe that I could ever come back after a put down like that. I’m not sure there is a put down that harsh. But we know Peter did. We know that the disciples all had points in their time with Jesus where they did drop the ball and were less than they could be but they came back.
Maybe we are feeling a little bit more in the crowd? Maybe we feel we have dropped the ball? We might feel that we have veered more to being a fan and not given our whole life to follow Jesus? Well none of us have been called Satan by Jesus so I guess we can be encouraged by that at least and go once more and follow a bit more closely than before?